LOS ANGELES - Only Hollywood could assemble a holiday guest list that ranges from the Muppets, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Puss in Boots and dancing penguins to J. Edgar Hoover, Margaret Thatcher, Marilyn Monroe and a steed in the trenches of World War I.
The latter are among a batch of potential Academy Awards contenders from past winners and nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio as the FBI boss in director Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar"; Meryl Streep as former British Prime Minister Thatcher in "The Iron Lady"; Michelle Williams as Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn"; and Steven Spielberg directing "War Horse," the Tony Award-winning play that arrives in theaters just days after the U.S. debut of Spielberg's action tale "The Adventures of Tintin."
The rush of holiday films started early, with the pre-Halloween release of "Puss in Boots" and this week's premiere of the comedy "Tower Heist."
Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig star in 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.'
Here are details on some of the highlights of this year's holiday slate:
Joining "Puss in Boots" on the family front are three familiar casts of cuddly creatures and a new animated look at the CEO of the Christmas season.
"Happy Feet Two" (Nov. 18) brings the return of tap-dancing cartoon penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood), whose son is in a crisis over his own lack of dance moves. The voice cast includes Robin Williams, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and pop star Pink.
During an ocean cruise, the talking, singing rodents find themselves stranded on a deserted island in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" (Dec. 16). The live-action and voice cast features Jason Lee, Justin Long, Amy Poehler and Christina Applegate.
James McAvoy provides the voice of the title character in "Arthur Christmas" (Nov. 23), an animated adventure that explains how Santa Claus manages to deliver gifts all over the world in one night.
"The Muppets" (Nov. 23) return as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang team with two human pals (Jason Segel and Amy Adams) for a telethon to save their old theater from a greedy oilman (Chris Cooper).
"My Week With Marilyn" (Nov. 23) chronicles the trials of a young assistant (Eddie Redmayne) as he ushers sex bomb Monroe (Williams) through the production of "The Prince and the Showgirl," co-starring Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).
Streep could add to her Oscar record of 16 acting nominations as Thatcher in "The Iron Lady" (Dec. 16), a portrait of the conservative prime minister that co-stars Jim Broadbent.
Also on the London front is director Madonna's "W.E." (Dec. 9),which blends the story of a modern woman (Abbie Cornish) in an unhappy marriage with the 1930s scandal over the abdication of King Edward so he could marry divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough).
On "J. Edgar" (Nov. 9), DiCaprio teams with Eastwood for a portrait of Hoover, who ran the FBI and its predecessor for nearly 50 years and drew accusations of abuse of power in his declining years.
Action and Adventure
Director Spielberg teams with producer Peter Jackson for "The Adventures of Tintin" (Dec. 21), which opens overseas well ahead of its December release in the United States, where the youthful adventurer is virtually unknown despite his global renown from the storybooks of Belgian writer Herge.
The film sends eager reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) on a treasure hunt with seafaring pal Capt. Haddock (Andy Serkis), the production created through a performance-capture shoot layered over with digital animation.
Robert Downey Jr. as the great detective and sidekick Watson (Jude Law) meet criminal mastermind Moriarty (Jared Harris) in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (Dec. 16).
James Bond star Daniel Craig stars with Rooney Mara in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (Dec. 21), an English-language remake of the Danish film based on the Swedish best-seller about a troubled computer genius aiding a journalist investigating a decades-old crime.
"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" (Dec. 21) has Tom Cruise's elite team going rogue after an attack on the Kremlin.
Then there's "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" (Nov. 18), the first of two movies based on Stephenie Meyer's final novel about teen Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her supernatural suitors (Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner).
"Breaking Dawn: Part 2" is due out in November 2012.
The season is heavy on families coping with loss and other domestic troubles. George Clooney stars as a neglectful husband and father forced to take charge of his spirited daughters after an accident puts his wife in a coma in "The Descendants" (Nov. 16), which centers on a large extended family that is heir to a priceless piece of unspoiled Hawaiian land.
Martin Scorsese directs the 3-D adventure "Hugo" (Nov. 23), the story of an orphan boy living in the walls of a Paris train station who joins with an eccentric girl as he seeks answers about the father he recently lost. The live action feature is based on Brian Selznick's children's book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret."
Roman Polanski's "Carnage" (Dec. 16) stars Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz in a drama about parents whose civility slips away as they meet to talk over a playground fight between their sons. It is based on Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning play, "God of Carnage."
In "We Bought a Zoo" (Dec. 23), Matt Damon plays a dad trying to hold his family together by doing just what the title says - moving with his kids to a rundown zoo that they begin to rebuild. Sounds sappy, concedes Damon, who interrupts himself when he describes the movie to point out that it's directed by Oscar winner Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire," "Almost Famous").
Angelina Jolie makes her directing debut with "In the Land of Blood and Honey" (Dec. 23), a romance set against the turmoil of the war in Bosnia during the 1990s.
Set amid the Cold War in 1973, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (Dec. 9) stars Gary Oldman as author John le Carre's unassuming spymaster George Smiley, brought out of retirement to finger a Russian mole in British intelligence circles.
Based on the book that inspired the Broadway play, Spielberg's "War Horse" (Dec. 25) chronicles the horrors of World War I through the eyes of an English farm horse that is sold to the army and later captured and pressed into service by the Germans.